In 1944, a soldier named Johnnie Halliburton was killed during the Second World War. When his remains were discovered in France, he was identified by a watch that clung still to his wrist, inscribed for him by his little brother Ray.
After the loss of his brother, Ray would go on to fight in the war himself; he would hold a man as he died, and he would be a prisoner of war in a German camp for half a year. For more than seven decades, the story of the Halliburton brothers has remained untold, but now it is at last recounted by Austin-based photographer Dan Winters.
Winters met Ray through his grandson, and over long conversations about his family and the war, he formed a friendship with the then 91-year-old farmer, who lived out the decades following the war as a watermelon and tomato farmer in Luling, Texas.
Ray, explains the photographer, was not a “career soldier” but an ordinary young man who put his life on the line to enter the call of duty. When Winters began photographing him, he lived alone, and as reported in an unforgettable piece by Al Reinert for Smithsonian Magazine, he spent much of his twilight days watching television in bed, praying, and remembering all the came before.
After all these years, suggests Winters, the memory of Johnnie lingers within reach, a constant companion for the aging citizen soldier. In conversations, Johnnie emerged time and again as a near-tangible presence.
Since the photographer first met Ray, the elderly man has moved into a care facility. His hold over his body and his memories grows dimmer, but internally, in the deepest corners of Ray’s consciousness, Winters suspects “all is okay.” His family visits quite frequently. Says the photographer, “As his life nears the end, he possesses a peace.”
Within the palm of his hands, Ray Halliburton carries the recollection of an indelible piece of history. Some secrets and impressions will leave us when he does, but others will be left behind in these pictures, for us to comb through with reverence and care. Writes Winters, “His participation in the war was a selfless act.”
All images © Dan Winters
via Smithsonian Mag